News and events

  • Next Zoning Board Meeting Wednesday, January 3, 2024

    Bernards Township Municipal Building, 1 Collyer Lane, Basking Ridge, NJ 

    Attendance at the Zoning Board hearings is a vital demonstration of ongoing community opposition to the extraordinary variance requests by Signature Acquisitions. If we want our voices heard and to matter, it is imperative we show up and speak up. The hearing resumes Wednesday, January 3, 2024, 7:30pm, when Signature is expected to present their traffic witness. This is a very sensitive concern for our community given the proposal for 24 tractor trailer loading docks.  Your presence will truly matter – especially on this topic

    Our goal remains:  Have the Zoning Board deny the variances.  

    What’s Happened So Far?

    Following an amended application in April, Signature has presented three witnesses – their engineer, architect, and director of business development. Three attorneys are representing various named objectors. (Protect Somerset Hills is helping to fund legal expenses for a group of four named objectors.) The three witnesses thus far have been cross-examined by the three attorneys and fielded questions from the public.  Signature is expected to present their traffic witness at the next meeting on Wednesday, January 3, 2024.  This is a very sensitive concern for our community.

    How Can You Help?

    • Join the Facebook member-only group for discussion

                Protect Somerset Hills- Oppose Allen Road Project

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/1001066147517645/

    • Make a donation here online, by mail (instructions above), through a Donor Advised Fund, or with a company matching program to optimize your contribution.

    How are funds raised being used?

    The primary use of funds raised by PSH is to support the named objectors represented by Rob Simon, Herold Law, as well as subject matter experts to testify. Communications such as the website, social media, lawn signs, etc. to create awareness and keep supporters informed are also funded. If you are motivated to contribute financially, we welcome your donation. If you are motivated to contribute with your skills, please contact us via opposeallenroadproject@gmail.com to volunteer to help with social media, communications, promotion, website, fundraising – whatever you can bring to the table.

  • From Bernardsville News, Online edition, August 14, 2023

    BERNARDS TOWNSHIP BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT

    Office slump cited for manufacturing quest in Bernards Township

    • By W. JACOB PERRY Staff Writer, Aug 13, 2023 Updated 4 hrs ago

    Opposition has arisen to a proposal to raze a large office building at 150 Allen Road in Bernards Township and replace it with two buildings for light manufacturing. With the proposal now before the Board of Adjustment, opponents have put out signs like this one on Mountain Road.
    BERNARDS TWP. – A controversial proposal to have light manufacturing in place of an Allen Road office is needed because office space has become difficult to fill, the Board of Adjustment was told on Wednesday, Aug. 9.
    Consolidation in the telecommunications and pharmaceutical industries, along with the pandemic-driven trend to work from home, has caused area office vacancy rates to reach 30 percent, said Richard Travaglini, vice president and director of development for Signature Acquisitions, LLC, of Cranford, which is seeking the proposal.
    The Allen Road building was fully occupied when Signature purchased it in February 2018, Travaglini noted. But it is now 99 percent vacant, with 10 percent of tenants recently being relocated to other Signature properties to clear out what’s left, he said.
    The cost of upgrading the 1980s-era building would be $5 million, he said, and even if it were upgraded, “with a shrinking demand, we’d still be in a dogfight for every deal.”
    Meanwhile, the demand for industrial space “is still collectively very high” in the form of pharmaceutical labs, electronics manufacturing and research and development, with the vacancy rate for industrial uses only 4 percent, Travaglini said.
    He said he would expect the project to bring in 300 to 350 jobs.
    “At the end of the day,” he added, “I’m fully prepared to address … those limitations you might suggest in order to have a workable project that works for all of us.”
    After three-and-a-half hours, the hearing – the third on the proposal since May 3 – was carried to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, at town hall on Collyer Lane.
    Signature is seeking site plan approval and variances to remove a three-story, 174,546-square-foot office building at 150 Allen Road and construct new two buildings of 127,977 and 130,551 square feet, a total of 258,528 square feet.
    More than three-quarters of each building would be for “light manufacturing,” which is a permitted use in the site’s E-2 employment zone. The applicant maintains that it is not seeking a warehouse.
    But residents in surrounding neighborhoods have mobilized in opposition to the proposal, citing a plan to include up to 24 loading docks for trucks.
    A key issue is whether trucks from the site would be more likely to take a route using the east end of Allen Road, Martinsville Road and Interstate Route 78 or – as some residents fear – the west end of Allen Road through The Hills housing development, Schley Mountain Road and I-287.
    The applicant has asserted that trucks exiting the site would be prohibited from turning left onto Allen Road toward The Hills, but the issue hasn’t gone away.
    Opposition Persists
    The Aug. 9 hearing drew about 75 people, down from a crowd of about 130 at the initial hearing.
    Opposition remained, however, as a citizens group, Protect Somerset Hills, passed out fliers against the proposal. It notes that the group can be followed online at https://www.protectsomersethills.org/.
    Also on hand were three opposition attorneys, each representing a different client or group of clients.
    Project engineer Robert Moschello, who testified on May 3, was cross-examined at a second hearing on May 11 for nearly two-and-a-half hours by two of the opposition attorneys.
    The attorneys were Donald Berlin, a resident of Fellowship Village who was representing fellow residents in the 257-unit continuing care retirement community on Allen Road; and Jennifer Phillips Smith, a Newark-based lawyer representing Fellowship Village, Inc.
    At the Aug. 9 hearing, Moschello was cross-examined by Robert F. Simon, a Warren Township-based lawyer representing Jeffrey McBride of Alder Lane, William T. Knox IV of Mountain Road, Ellen Pinson of Allen Road, Sky Farm, Inc., of Allen Road, and Couch Braunsdorf Insurance Group at the corner of Martinsville and Allen roads.
    Under questioning from Simon, Moschello said the project’s traffic engineer was working on a barrier to prohibit trucks but not cars and delivery vans from making left turn exits onto Allen Road westbound.
    Moschello acknowledged that a rear driveway links the 150 Allen Road parking lot with the parking lots of office buildings at 140, 110 and 106 Allen Road. When Simon asked if trucks could use those other lots to turn left onto Allen Road, he was told it was a question for the applicant’s traffic consultant.
    Simon said he would also seek to clarify if there was anything to prevent incoming trucks from arriving via I-287 and Schley Mountain/Allen Road.
    With respect to the proposed loading docks, Moschello acknowledged that a township zoning ordinance contemplates a 230,000-square-foot building having only six loading docks and not 24, and only four when the office component is excluded.
    Moschello also said parking would be reduced from 855 spaces to 328 versus a requirement for 639; parking lot lights would go off at 11 p.m. while three security lights would remain on; 417 of 548 trees within the development footprint would be removed; and adjacent utility easements prohibit plantings.
    Board member Jaime Herrera said that while turning off the lights at 11 p.m. infers that no one would be working after that time, some buildings for manufacturing can operate on a 24/7 basis.
    She asked if truck activity between 11 p.m. and dawn would be restricted.
    Moschello replied that a tenant might not want a 24/7 operation.
    Overnight Shifts?
    Travaglini then testified and sought to clarify aspects of the proposal.
    He noted that he is a longtime Bedminster Township resident and knows the area well.
    The plans are for the proposed space to consist of 50 percent manufacturing, 30 percent shipping and receiving, and 20 percent office use, he said.
    With respect to a 24/7 operation, Travaglini said prospective tenants have discussed two shifts and occasionally a third to meet deadlines. Two shifts would most likely operate from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 4 p.m. to midnight, or from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2 to 10 p.m., he said.
    He played down the chance of an overnight shift, saying he has been informed that shipping and receiving typically occurs in the daytime.
    With respect to proposing 24 loading docks, Travaglini said the “optimum” ratio is one per 3,000 square feet, with one per 4,000 to 5,000 square feet being “less marketable,” and one per 6,000 square feet becoming “undesirable.”
    While the proposal seeks to provide up to 12 docks per building, “it could be half that,” he said.
    With respect to a request for a variance for excessive building height, he said extra height allows for a more efficient storage space.
    Travaglini said that after the office market began to decline, Signature approached township officials about a conversion to multi-family housing but was informed that the township had met its affordable housing obligation.
    “We would have been thrilled to do multi-family development there,” he said. “That probably would have been the most profitable.”
    Herrera asked how the manufacturing proposal would benefit the community.
    Travaglini replied that it would enhance township ratables and boost the nearby retail market.
    Looking ahead to the next hearing, Travaglini will take questions from the public and will likely be cross-examined by the opposition attorneys.
    The applicant plans to present three additional witnesses – the project architect, a traffic consultant and a professional planner. They, too, will take questions from the public and face cross-examination.
    In addition to site plan approval, variances are sought for a floor area ratio (FAR) of 21 percent versus the E-2 limit of 15 percent; building heights of 52.5 feet and 50.6 feet versus the 48-foot limit; providing 328 parking spaces as opposed to a minimum requirement for 639; excessive retaining wall heights; and disturbance of steep slopes.
    Several waivers are sought, including one for tree replacement.
    With 417 trees to be removed, 176 would be replaced versus a requirement for 649.

  • From the Bernardsville News May 7th Meeting Coverage

    BERNARDS TOWNSHIP BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT

    Manufacturing proposal draws another crowd in BernardsTownship

    Attorney: No warehouse planned
    By W. JACOB PERRY Staff Writer
    May 7, 2023

    This large office building at 150 Allen Road would be razed and replaced with two buildings for manufacturing under a proposal currently before the Bernards Township Board of Adjustment. The plan is facing considerable opposition from area residents.
    Photo by Charlie Zavalick
    BERNARDS TWP.
    – Potential truck traffic remained an issue as a proposal to redevelop an Allen Road office complex with two buildings for light manufacturing was back before the Board of Adjustment and a large crowd on Wednesday, May 3.

    An audience of about 130 people filled nearly every seat at town hall for the re-start of expert testimony, which initially began on Jan. 4, but was nullified after objectors challenged the applicant’s original public legal notice.
    The applicant, Signature Acquisitions, LLC, of Cranford, is seeking site plan approval and variances to remove a three-story, 174,546-square-foot office building at 150 Allen Road and construct new two buildings of 127,977 and 130,551 square feet, for a total of 258,528 square feet.

    More than three-quarters of each building would be for “light manufacturing,” which is a permitted use in the site’s E-2 employment zone.
    But residents in surrounding communities have mobilized in opposition to the proposal.
    A key issue is whether trucks from the site would be more likely to take a route using the east end of Allen Road, Martinsville Road and Interstate Route 78 or – as some residents fear – the west end of Allen Road through The Hills housing development, Schley Mountain Road and I-287.
    The applicant asserted in January that trucks exiting the site would be prohibited from turning left onto Allen Road toward The Hills, but the issue hasn’t gone away.
    As the May 3 hearing began, Jeffrey Lehrer, an attorney for the applicant, sought to address “misconceptions” that objectors cited in fliers.

    He said that while fliers asserted that the applicant was seeking a warehouse use, that was not so. He said there would be shipping and receiving components but the plan to provide 24loading spaces would be “woefully insufficient” for a warehouse.
    Signature has received interest from prospective tenants including a paper- and plastic-stamping company and a printing company, Lehrer said.
    He stressed that his client was not speaking to companies like Amazon or Target.
    Lehrer said he would present testimony from five expert witnesses – the project engineer, the project architect, a Signature representative who would discuss logistics and the supply chain, a traffic consultant and a professional planner.
    Each witness will be subject to cross-examination from the public or their legal representatives. Once all the witnesses have testified, the public will have an opportunity to voice opinions on the proposal.
    Opposition Attorneys
    Board Attorney Steven K. Warner noted that three attorneys were representing various objectors.
    They include: Robert F. Simon, initially on behalf of Jeffrey McBride of Alder Lane and William T. Knox IV of Mountain Road; Jennifer Phillips Smith, on behalf of Fellowship Village, Inc., which runs a 257-unit continuing care retirement community on Allen Road; and Donald Berlin of Fellowship Village, on behalf of residents at the complex.
    Warner said Simon was now representing three additional clients – Couch Braunsdorf Insurance Group at the corner of Martinsville and Allen roads; Sky Farm, Inc., of Allen Road; and Ellen Pinson of Allen Road.

    Lehrer said another entity organized by objectors, Protect Somerset Hills, has a website that repeatedly refers to Simon as its attorney. He asked who is in the group and if Simon represents them because legally, an individual represented by legal counsel cannot cross-examine a witness.
    Attorney John Kaplan, who was filling in for Simon, said his firm has retained five clients, and Protect Somerset Hills was not among them.
    Signature’s first witness, project engineer Robert Moschello, then testified for more than two hours on assorted site plan issues, essentially repeating testimony he gave back on Jan. 4.
    The testimony drew questions from eight residents. Most of the residents asked traffic-related questions and were told they would need to wait for testimony from the applicant’s traffic consultant.
    Warner then asked the three opposition attorneys how long they expected to cross-examine Moschello. Berlin said more than 45 minutes; Smith said at least an hour; and Kaplan said up to an hour.
    The hearing was then adjourned and carried to the board’s next meeting, scheduled for 7:30p.m. Thursday, May 11, at town hall on Collyer Lane. Another hearing will follow on Wednesday, June 7.
    Two of the board’s seven regular members have recused themselves from the review – Beth Pochtar who has a professional affiliation with a neighboring property; and Lisamarie Baumann, whose husband, Gary Baumann, is a Republican candidate for Township Committee

    whose campaign opposes the proposal.
    Their places have been taken by the board’s two alternates.
    The site, located on the south side of Allen Road, consists of 28.25 acres, of which 17 acres is dedicated open space.
    The existing building would be replaced by two buildings that would be in close proximity to each other. Building “A” would be 220 feet wide and 580 feet long; and Building “B” would be 210 feet wide and 620 feet long.
    The number of parking spaces would be reduced from 855 now to 328. The reduced total would include 24 trailer loading spaces, or 12 for each building.
    Moschello said the proposed 24 spaces are designed to accommodate WB-67 wheelbase trucks, which are the largest type of tractor trailer, although the spaces could also accommodate smaller trucks.
    The 1980s-era stormwater management system would be largely replaced to include five bio-retention basins.
    The existing light fixtures, most of which are 25 feet high, would be replaced with a total of 4516-foot-high fixtures. There would also be nine lights on the buildings.
    Variances are sought for a floor area ratio (FAR) of 21 percent versus the E-2 limit of 15 percent; building heights of 52.5 feet and 50.6 feet versus the 48-foot limit; providing 328 parking spaces as opposed to a minimum requirement for 639; excessive retaining wall heights; and disturbance of steep slopes. Several waivers are sought, including one for tree replacement.
    With 417 trees to be removed, 176 would be replaced versus a requirement for 649.

  • The Bernardsville News – Opposition delays manufacturing quest

    Thursday, February 16, 2023

    BERNARDS TWP. – With a standing-room-only crowd looking on, legal issues raised by three opposition attorneys led the Board of Adjustment on Wednesday, Feb. 8, to delay further review of a controversial proposal to replace an Allen Road office building with two buildings for manufacturing. More than 150 people filled nearly every seat and lined the back walls of the town hall meeting room, spurred by fliers warning that the proposal could send tractor trailers through Allen Road neighborhoods. Although the board held a prior hearing on Jan. 4 with testimony from the applicant’s engineer, it later received letters from opposition attorneys who faulted the applicant’s December legal notice as defective and jeopardizing the entire review. The board therefore chose on Wednesday to hear the attorneys’ objections so it could decide whether to proceed further. At issue was a driveway for the 150 Allen Road office complex, owned by Signature Acquisitions, LLC, of Cranford. The start of the driveway uses an easement through the corner of a vacant 13- acre, residentially zoned lot to the west owned by Allen Center Farm, LLC, of New York, before leading to the 28-acre, commercially zoned office lot. The opposition attorneys maintained that when a driveway in a residential zone is used to reach a new use that is not permitted in the residential zone, it needs a variance that must be part of the application and included in the legal notice, which did not happen. They also faulted the legal notice for not being more specific about the intended use. Without an adequate legal notice, they said, the board lacked jurisdiction to continue the hearing. ‘Put This Off’ The board received the objections in writing earlier Wednesday from Robert F. Simon, a Warren Township- based attorney representing Jeffrey McBride of Alder Lane and William T. Knox IV of Mountain Road; and Jennifer Phillips Smith, a Newark-based attorney representing Fellowship Village, Inc. Fellowship runs a 257- unit continuing care retirement community located off Allen Road east of the office site. Arguments before the board were made by Simon, Phillips Smith and a third attorney, Donald Berlin of Fellowship Village, who was representing residents at the complex. Simon noted that the applicant planned to present additional testimony from the project architect, its director of leasing, a traffic consultant and a professional planner, and all could go to waste if the board is found to lack jurisdiction. He urged the board to require a new legal notice that better informs the public and settles the jurisdiction issue so it is “not wasting time, energy and resources in hearing testimony twice.” Phillips Smith expressed a similar view, saying the public should not have to come back for a second round of hearings. Berlin agreed. “Put this off tonight,” he said, drawing applause. Jeffrey Lehrer, attorney for the applicant, initially resisted calls to delay the proceedings. He disputed the need for the neighboring property to secure a use variance, saying the issue was whether use of the driveway would be “intensified” by a light manufacturing use. But after seeking a 15-minute break to consult with his client, Lehrer conceded that “there won’t be testimony tonight.” He asked the board for an “expedited” schedule in which he and the opposition attorneys would each submit written legal opinions to the board. The board would then review the opinions, also known as briefs, obtain a recommendation from Board Attorney Steven K. Warner, and decide whether to proceed with testimony or require a new legal notice with more variances. The agreed-upon schedule called for Lehrer to submit his rebuttal by Wednesday, March 1; the opposition attorneys would respond to the rebuttal by Friday, March 10; and Lehrer would respond to those responses by Monday, March 13. The board would then review Warner’s recommendation at its meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16, at town hall on Collyer Lane. Even if the board sides with the applicant, there would be no new testimony that night. Testimony would tentatively resume at the board meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 3, at town hall. Berlin, noting the size of the audience, told the board “there will be more people coming.” He suggested an alternative venue with more seating for future hearings. Board Chair Jeanmarie Genirs was non-committal. “The board knows it’s an important issue to the town,” she said. The public, which did not have a chance to speak, then exited quietly. Traffic Issues Signature is seeking site plan approval and variances to remove a three-story, 174,546-square-foot building at 150 Allen Road and construct two buildings of about 130,000 square feet each, for a total of about 260,000 square feet. More than three-quarters of each building would be for “light manufacturing,” which is a permitted use in the site’s E-2 employment zone. Light manufacturing in the zone is defined as “an activity which involves the assembly of products from previously prepared materials which does not involve the synthesis of chemicals or the processing of raw materials.” A traffic study performed for Signature maintains that total traffic for the manufacturing use would be less than it was for the office use. The number of on-site parking spaces would be reduced from 855 now to 328. The reduced total would include 24 trailer loading spaces, or 12 for each building. The likely increase in truck traffic led the board to vote in December to hire its own traffic consultant. Among the variances sought by Signature are for a floor area ratio (FAR) of 21 percent versus the E-2 limit of 15 percent; building heights of 52.5 feet and 51.6 feet versus the 48-foot limit; providing 328 parking spaces as opposed to a minimum requirement for 639; and disturbance of steep slopes. Several waivers are sought, including one for tree replacement. With 417 trees to be removed, 176 would be replaced versus a requirement for 649. Within days of the initial Jan. 4 meeting, residents with concerns about truck traffic began mobilizing. A key issue is whether trucks from the site would be more likely to take a route consisting of the east end of Allen Road, Martinsville Road and Interstate Route 78 or – as some residents fear – the west end of Allen Road through The Hills housing development, Schley Mountain Road and I-287. A flier distributed last month had a heading, “Manufacturing Facility Proposed on Allen Road,” accompanied by photos of a tractor trailer and a second truck spouting black smoke while driving through a neighborhood. It said residents did not yet know who the tenants would be, and “what kind of noise, pollution and environmental issues they will create.” Another flier, distributed at Wednesday’s meeting, said a group, under the name Protect Somerset Hills, was seeking donations “under the fiscal sponsorship” of the non-profit NJ Highlands Coalition. Lehrer took note of the flier, telling the board that it “re-brands the application as something it is not.” He said the upcoming testimony will show the claims are “either false or at best, misleading.” He stressed that the proposal was not designed to accommodate warehousing. He also said there would be no left turns out of the site onto Allen Road westbound toward The Hills.

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